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Portrait Gallery Highlights – by National Galleries Staff

March 15, 2012

“Taking visitors round and finding each gallery as busy as the last.  Seeing queues for the interactive touch-screens and never an empty seat in the café. Marveling at the donor board and all the generous people who made the new Portrait Gallery happen.”
Hilary Burwell
Development Officer

“Looking at all the imaginative drawings and comments visitors make on the Pioneers of Science Postcard activity. It’s fascinating to see what the most memorable TV moments have been since the invention of television, and with the news that  Russian scientists are embarking on a mammoth-cloning project – I can confirm that mammoths also get the public vote for cloning!”
Sarah Saunders
Deputy Head of Education


“On 1st December looking down from the ambulatory, purple flag in hand, waving and cheering like an idiot, I watched the crowds streaming in through the Portrait Gallery front door intently. As eyes lifted upwards towards the spectacular gilded processional frieze and faces widened into beaming smiles I realized that all the hard work had been worth it.”
Lesley Stevenson ACR
Senior Paintings Conservator

“I think it’s safe to say that, for me, the best moment in the Portrait Gallery since our opening is not so much a moment per se but rather a general feel, a vibe if you will, a collection of moments in time all locked together.  I just feel that everything is now running together in perfect synch and it’s pretty amazing to see really, like a big engine made up of many parts all running together to push the whole forward.  It’s pretty inspiring overall to see so many people all pulling together with one aim, that of propelling the galleries forward.”
Alan Hume
Gallery Attendant

Posters for blog

“Best moment? It has to be when our posters arrived, featuring iconic portraits from the Collection and great designs by O Street – so exciting!”
Harriet Baker
Marketing Department

“My favourite moment so far was at the Rough Cut Book Launch back in December, watching John Knox Sex Club perform in front of William Hole’s freshly cleaned mural of St Columba addressing the Picts.”
Richie Cumming
Outreach Officer

“My highlight is the enormous number of friends who have come up to me since the opening to say they’ve visited the Portrait Gallery, it’s wonderful and they can’t wait to come back.”
Anne Backhouse
PA to Nicola Kalinsky

Craigentinny Primary School Choir 1

“My favourite moment was seeing the Farmer Education Suite in use for the first time for a public event – and completely packed with families making exquisite Christmas decorations linked to the miniatures collection.
I also loved the Craigentinny Primary School Christmas concert, which was part of the Festive opening programme. Their professionalism was breath-taking and they managed to get all the people in the Great Hall joining in”
Tricia Allerston
Head of Education

“It’s a great gallery with a good program of events. Meet the Ancestors was brilliant and it was very nice to see young and grown-up visitors enjoying it!”
Greta Casacci
SVS Staff at the PG

“Feeling a flutter of delightful trepidation on approaching the new Ramsay Room – the centrepiece of a top floor suite of galleries – and taking the deepest of breaths at seeing some of Allan Ramsay’s most glorious portraits hung on the subtlest of wall shade, both of which together instantly reflect this particular exhibition’s story of the Scottish contribution to the Enlightenment.”
Imogen Gibbon
Senior Curator Reference Section

“The first reactions from visitors who have not been since it was the old Portrait Gallery are the best, it’s great to get their feedback and to see we got it right.”
Della Milne

“It has been so exciting to hear people talking about how they love the new gallery not just all over Edinburgh but online! To see the reaction and conversation on twitter and facebook – has just been brilliant!”
Miriam Attwood
Press & Digital Information Officer

“It was great to return to the Portrait Gallery for the Friends Christmas Party. A special performance of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ in the restored Great Hall from Edinburgh Academy’s Chamber Choir, with the statue of Rabbie himself looking on, left hardly a dry eye in the house!”
Mollie Waugh
Database Co-ordinator

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

“It was just great to see the building coming back to life as the public flooded through the doors. History in the making!”
Dr Duncan Forbes
Senior Curator of Photography

“The Portrait Gallery has come alive’ the place is buzzing’ welcoming & friendly staff to make your family visit memorable – nonstop since 1st December 2011.”
Willie Dickson
Duty manager

“It’s great to see people crowding around the Faces & Places screens in the ambulatory playing games and discovering new works. (And I especially love the puffins in the Castaway activity!)”
Kate Amann
Digital Media Officer

John Byrne

“My highlight was meeting the lovely and all round artistic genius that is John Byrne at the opening of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery on 1 December 2011!  I have always admired his art work, whether it be portraiture or plays, but his genuine enthusiasm for the refurbishment and warm personality won me over that day!”
Clare McCormack
Press and Information Assistant

“A highlight I enjoyed was the letter from Professor David Walker, former Chief Inspector at Historic Scotland, who wrote of the “realisation of an impossible dream” after his battles to save the building from the early 1960s, official advice being then that “a much finer building could be created” and that the Portrait Gallery was “grossly over-carved” and “impossible to retain” ”
Robert Galbraith
Programme Manager for the SNPG Project

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

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Portrait Gallery Events: Week Four

February 24, 2012

Architecture Tour

2pm. Saturday 18 February

45 Minute Tour

The Architecture Tour starts with an introduction to the building in the Great Hall. Matthew Latusek, PhD student at the University of Edinburgh leads the 45 minute tour which guides the group right through the building. Built between 1885 and 1889 and shared with the Museum of Antiquaries for over 100 years it was to be a ‘Temple of Caledonian Fame.’ A place to present the great and the good of Scotland:  Starting with the Frieze in the Great Hall Matthew points to detail such as the figures of Scottish history marching back towards the figure of Caledonia.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

It is not the warmest of Saturdays (it’s utterly freezing) but we head outside into the Edinburgh wind to look at the 5672 sq metre building from its best vantage point, Queen Street. The Gothic sandstone building’s huge windows were a very deliberate design by architect  Sir Robert Rowand Andersen who wanted light to flood the building and create spacious well-lit galleries. Initially towers were designed to sit on each of the top four corners of the building, but they did not make the final design which, as Matthew describes, shows real pragmatism alongside romantic ideas of French gothic architecture. Sir Anderson trained under George Gilbert Scott – who designed St. Pancras Station – so we’re in good company.

Architecture Tour - Outside

We head back into the building, and turn left through the new spacious foyer into the Contemporary Gallery, currently hosting Missing and Hot Scots. (Missing is only on to the end of March so make sure you head in to see it). This space housed the Museum of Antiquaries and was full of cabinets and screens, now it’s just one large open multipurpose space. Significant interventions – by renovating architects PagePark – include opening up the previously closed vestibule and adding the education mezzanine that sits along the back of the contemporary gallery creating both a workshop space for school groups and a lunchroom above without compromising on having a large, light and open gallery space.

The Library

The group walk up to the top floor past The Library, where Matthew explains the practicalities of moving such an elaborate structure (think the Chocolate Shop in the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory film but with books and artifacts) to another floor but also explains how the move to the middle floor makes sense for the building as a whole. The Library used to be up on the top floor blocking the  natural light, and the natural flow of the building – this is now Gallery 1: Reformation to Revolution and opens up the top floor as a circuit of galleries. This is a great example of the purpose of renovating architects PagePark in practice: showcasing the original design and creating an accessible contemporary gallery space. The tour wraps up on the top floor, in Gallery 5 and 6, which show off the original top-lit feature of the building; flooding the space with natural light.

Architecture Tour  - Top Floor

Learning about additions and omissions to the original 1880s design through to the purpose and design of a modern gallery is fascinating, it’s no surprise the tours are proving popular! Have a look at booking in on one of the monthly Saturday tours here and read more about the Scottish National Portrait Gallery History and Architecture at

Portrait Gallery Events: Week Three

February 10, 2012

Portrait Gallery Insights: Playing For Scotland

12.45pm. Wednesday 1 February.

30 minute talk

Lunchtimes can be used for many pursuits, eating, going to the gym, getting some chores done, some people even play games on their smartphone, but, as many people have discovered over the last two months, you can also learn a fact or two on your lunch break by attending talks at the Portrait Gallery. Imogen Gibbon curator of Playing for Scotland opens this week’s talk referring to how many works there are within the exhibition and that 30 sports are represented. This exhibition will be one of the longer running in the Portrait Gallery, intended to stay on the walls, (with wee changes and works swapped round) until late 2014 – so it’ll see both the London 2012 Olympics and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Playing for Scotland lunchtime talk

Imogen is clear to point out both the regular and absurd nature of sport as a hobby, lifestyle and leisure activity over the last few centuries. Shinty, we learn, was actually played ‘rule-less’ for the most part, and better still, any rules (we’re talking members of the team and rough length of play) were the privilege of the home team to decide. That would bring new meaning to the 6 Nations wouldn’t it…? ‘Aye, we’ll go for 3 hours and I think we’ll take on 20 players today as everyone’s feeling spritely’. Great stuff.

Donald Dinnie, C J Beattie,
This coloured photograph of Donald Dinnie by C J Beattie is taken from the Scottish National Portrait Gallery collection.

Development of sport – into a ‘rule-filled’ territory – over the 19th Century was the domain of newspapers and photos are passed round the room. Many of the key works in the room pre-date the advent of sports reporting and mainstream photography. Works show archery, golf, curling, hunting and of course the Highland Games spanning through to Victorian women rock-climbing in full skirts. These photographs mark the development from posed and remembered portraits of sports through both posed and live action photography.  This 1843 photo of a tennis player is a brilliant example.

Playing for Scotland lunchtime talk

Scottish tradition includes events like the Highland Games or the Leith Races (to name just two); David Webster comments in the video in the centre of exhibition how the Highland Games are Scotland’s “biggest sporting legacy” as the group turn to see footage of the Caber Toss. But also, Donald Dinnie, Scotland’s First Sporting Superstar features in Imogen’s talk, whilst a bronze statue, stands tall in the cabinet in the centre of the room.

Also covered are the brilliant names for everyday sports – ‘Battledore and Shuttlecock’ and ‘Pedestrianism’ are unrivalled in their brilliance, (in our humble opinion.) Pedestrianism = competitive walking. If you have any other wonderful, witty or interesting historic names for sports – please comment below!

Portrait Gallery Events: Week Two

January 25, 2012

The Missing – A National Collaboration

6pm. Wednesday 18 Jan.

1 hour talk

This event first caught my eye as I am very curious about The Missing, a book published in 1995 by Andrew O’Hagan on his investigations into missing persons. How then, did  The Missing take on a new life form as a National Theatre of Scotland production (by the same name) and influence a new addition (and excitedly, a new medium – film!) to the Portrait Gallery collection? After being lucky enough to catch both the NTS play, (adapted by O’Hagan) and the artwork Missing by Graham Fagen at Tramway last September and having recently seen the Missing displayed in the newly refurbished Portrait Gallery, I thought why stop there? James Holloway, Director the of the Portrait Gallery and John Tiffany, Director of NTS who both commissioned and directed the play, and artist of Missing, Graham Fagen came together for one night only to discuss all of these  projects and I thought it seemed like a great opportunity to hear what spurred on such an artistic collaboration.

The Missing Event - A National Collaboration

The panel in full flow...

The discussion took place in the Scottish National Gallery’s lecture theatre, a room which on reflection could have felt a little impersonal, given the sensitive subject matter of ‘mispers’ (O’Hagan’s description of vulnerable people that go missing from British society). It was however, actually extremely intimate and moving and, despite the harrowing nature of the subject matter, quite funny at times. Ruth Wishart, a Herald newspaper columnist and BBC broadcaster, led the conversation and her dry wit and direct manner kept the panel, especially James, on his toes.

Missing is its current setting, Photograph by John Mckenzie

It was obvious that the three men have been in partnership for some time (James had introduced the two back in January 2011) as they all seemed at ease with each other discussing the creative process behind such a sensitive issue.  Coincidently, (and unknown to James and John), Andrew and Graham actually grew up together in the same area of Irvine. When the time came for the three of them to meet with the author, Graham and Andrew reminisced about their childhood and how a peer from their housing estate had gone missing. This relationship only added new layers to this unique collaboration.

I think one of the most poignant comments from the discussion that has stuck in my head, came from James’ explanation on why he wanted an art work like the Missing in the Portrait Gallery.  The Gallery is not about missing people, portraits hang on the walls representing people from Scotland and he felt the Missing would give these ‘mispers’ a place amongst society and a home.

The Missing Event - A National Collaboration

A smiley finish

Clare from the NGS Press Team attended The Missing: A National Collaboration. Graham Fagan’s work is on display at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 31 March 2012.

Portrait Gallery Events: Week One

January 17, 2012

Portrait Gallery Insights: Out of the Shadows.

6pm. Thursday 12 Jan.

30 minute talk

Although women appear across the Portrait Gallery in various contexts, Out of the Shadows charts the tipping point of changes in society and attitudes towards women’s roles. With Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman still riding high in the bestseller charts – what better place to start learning how things were than delving behind the canvas of this new exhibition.

We meet in the great hall (fully booked with 15 people only as the exhibtion is quite small). Sarah Saunders, Deputy Head of Education at NGS, leads the group up to the far side of the top floor where Out of the Shadows is situated. Seated on portable stools, Sarah outlines the nature of the exhibition – drawing the group’s attention to a series of photos projected onto one central wall of the space. The 19th century and a few early 20th century cabinet cards (50 in all) highlight the unlikelihood of women being a person of note; simply as very few of them have names or families attributed to them. They face Queen Victoria who, as Sarah explains, was somewhat a paradoxical female monarch, not believing in votes for women.

Queen Victoria and Caroline Norton

The 30 minute talk whittles through a menagerie of information that does not fit onto the wall texts. We learn why Queen Victoria is placed next to Caroline Norton –  Norton was trapped in an abusive marriage unable to petition for divorce so canvassed the Queen about divorce rights for women. Also about Mary Somerville who sits next to Charlotte Nasmyth. Somerville, one of the premier scientists of the 19th century was banned by her parents from indulging her love of maths and astronomy as a child and threatened with a straitjacket. Nasmyth however was uniquely provided with the same education as her brothers and encouraged to hone her craft as an artist.

The portraits on display in Out of the Shadowsare of women whose lives span the late 18th to the early 20th century and the names are not unfamiliar – Carlyle, Burns, Nasmyth. This corner of the Portrait Gallery reflects a period of huge change; Flora Drummond the suffragette’s ‘general’ with her purple, white and green sash sits alongside 1840s photos of the Newhaven Fishwives, not just traders but accountants for their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Bust of Susan Edmonstone Ferrier

Supplementing the information on the walls and elaborating with readings from Clementina Stirling’s memoirs Mystifications and the correspondence of Jane Baillie Welsh Carlyle (which show huge similarities to today’s cynical social columnists,) Sarah deftly runs the quiet audience through the characters in the exhibition and why they belong on the walls of the Portrait Gallery.

Portrait Gallery Events

January 17, 2012

Throughout the renovation and refurbishment at the Portrait Gallery we’ve been keeping you updated on progress with snapshots of developments. Now the gallery has been open for over a month we feel it’s only fair we share how things are going now the doors are open and the scones are baking, (had to mention the scones). The gallery saw well over 50,000 visitors in the first month alone, all coming down to the gallery to look round 17 exhibitions and of course, marvel at the restored and now very shiny Great Hall.

The Great Hall

It is in the Great Hall that in the weeks since the Portrait Gallery opened, groups of art fans, families, students, anyone and everyone has gathered before tours, events, drop-in sessions to meet their tour guide – anyone from a curator, or Gallery Director James Holloway, through to the education team and local architects. Over January and February – through the cold, dark and ice – we’re going to attend an event a week to give you an idea of what’s what. From families events to curator talks we hope to give you a feel for the Portrait Gallery experience…

Although some of the events at the Portrait Gallery are drop-in, it’s always worth checking if they have a limited capacity. All events are listed at National Galleries online. Also – we’re tweeting and keeping Facebook updated with highlights and ideas so make sure you’re following us!

Imagining Power

Opening Acts

December 9, 2011

With over 10,000 visitors in the first four days, we have been really delighted with the responses to the SNPG opening and to our education programmes.

This weekend coming we have even more events for you at the Portrait Gallery. Today, Friday 9th we launch the Rough Cut Nation book, featuring live music from John Knox Sex Club.

On Saturday 10th we are focusing on the Romantic Camera exhibition with a free drop-in cyanotype photography workshop suitable for ages 8 + and Autograph ABP, one of the UK’s leading photographic agencies, will be in residence and inviting all Scots from culturally diverse backgrounds to dig out their photographic treasures and have their family albums digitised for posterity. Also on Saturday, don’t miss live music and dance from The Sikh Sanjog Girls and Dholki players in the Great Hall and warming winter storytelling for families in our cosy library.

On Sunday 11th December we have the continuation of our free cyanotype workshops, where you can create beautiful blue photographs. If you prefer to explore the exhibitions, then try one of our five free Portrait Gallery trails on a variety of themes. Then in the afternoon, watch out for a special festive edition of Portrait Detectives. Children can collect a detective kit and help Detectives Raeburn and Rothko to solve Scottish crimes and mysteries. And all of these events are completely free!

Song as Portrait

Last weekend was a blaze of activity! On Friday night we held our first music event in the Citizens of the World gallery.  Devised by the Glasgow-based artist Steven Anderson, Your Leaning Neck brought together traditional Scottish singers and contemporary artists. The result was an incredibly beautiful, dramatic and mesmerising performance.  Artist Ruth Barker started the evening (above), processing around the gallery barefoot and wearing a scarlet dress, especially created for the performance, which bound her arms to her sides. Arthur Watson created an intimate atmosphere by singing facing towards the portraits and the spellbinding voices of Elizabeth and Sheila Stewart, the last of a long line of singers in the oral tradition, really captured the imagination of the audience. The last group of three singers to perform were led by Hanna Tuulikki whose work is inspired by the Scottish Gaelic oral tradition of imitating bird calls and songs with the voice. In this case they used their extraordinary voices to evoke the oystercatcher, the redshank and seabird colonies.

Let's Decorate

Then on Saturday 3rd December the fun really began with free festive activities for children including bauble-making and christmas tree decorating in our new farmer Education Suite. With the Portrait Gallery christmas tree in place, the Family Festive Concert with Craigentinny Primary School Choir was a really big hit with visitors.

Craigentinny Primary School Choir 1

On Sunday, despite the very cold weather, The Great Portrait Breakout was a very impressive and dramatic success. Sixteen characters from the Frieze literally came to life and escaped from the gallery to the sound of the brilliant band Pure Brass playing the theme to The Great Escape.

Pageant 1

The famous Scots created a real buzz in the gallery and lots of noise, especially the Vikings and John Knox who were really out to cause trouble. Robert Burns was as delightfully charming as you would expect, as were Mary Queen of Scots and the handsome and erudite Thomas Carlyle. It was great to hear the specially composed fanfare played in the great hall, and to see the proud composer John Maxwell Geddes there in the audience.

Pageant 2

We would like to extend our thanks to everyone who has visited so far. It’s been so brilliant to see you all in the building engaging with our exhibitions and events. We’d love to hear what you think so far. And for any of you who’ve not been in yet – what are you waiting for! We are really looking forward to welcoming you and introducing you to your very own Scottish family album.

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